ST. PETERSBURG — At a time such as this, at the low point of a high-flying season, it is important to maintain perspective.
After a game such as this one, which ended with the sound of brooms whisking in the distance, it is important to keep your sight on the big picture.
With that in mind, let us agree upon the proper way to remember the way the Rays have spent their past three games:
Pretty much that sums it up. The Rays entered their series against the Red Sox as a team that could do nothing wrong. They concluded it as a team that, for the short term, did very little right.
And furthermore, yuck.
For the third straight night the Red Sox battered and bullied the Rays. This time it was 11-3, and if you didn't know any better, it would be hard to tell who was chasing whom in the AL East. For Tampa Bay, the only consolation is the league standings.
"They outpitched us, they outhit us, they outplayed us," said Matt Garza, Wednesday's losing pitcher.
Look, this does not mean the Rays are not off to a splendid start, because they are, and it doesn't mean they aren't going to have a wonderful season, because they will, and it doesn't mean the sky is falling, although the catwalk may tumble any day now.
But if there were ever three games to show Tampa Bay just how bumpy the highway is going to be before it is all over, these were the three.
True, it is only May, and no, the Rays have not transformed into, say, the Orioles. They are still baseball's best team, and if they go 58-57 the rest of the way, they'll still win 90 games. If you spent a lot of time watching the Rays over the past three nights, perhaps you should remind yourself of that a time or 20. Remind me, too.
On the other hand, how many e's are in pee-yew?
For three straight games, the Red Sox pushed the Rays around. And the worst part of it was how little Tampa Bay managed to hit back.
Think about it. For the series, the Rays scored only four runs, and they had only 17 hits, and they struck out 25 times. They were 2-for-25 with runners in scoring position — a cool 1-for-14 on Wednesday — and they left 24 men on. In the three games, the Rays never had a lead.
And they lost.
And lost again.
If this series was about a message, it was the Red Sox who did all the talking. Say what you want about how good things have been going, a team never wants to get swept, especially at home, especially by a division rival, and especially by the Red Sox, the opponent that has annoyed Tampa Bay more than any over the years.
Think of it like this: If it was important for the Rays to get off to a good start this season — and it was — it is also important to win at home when division rivals come to town.
And so the Rays have dared to look mortal. Yes, they bleed, especially from the bats. Yes, they can slump. Yes, they can allow runners to die on base.
So what happens now?
That's the big question, isn't it?
First of all, the Rays have to have more offense than this. It doesn't matter if the help comes from below (Matt Joyce? Desmond Jennings?) or from outside or from sticking John Jaso into the lineup and keeping him there until his catcher's mask becomes a permanent part of his skull. The Rays simply have to get a little more charge in their batting order.
Of course, part of this shouldn't surprise anyone. The Rays have a lineup filled with streak hitters and 100-strikeout-a-year performers. On this budget, a team doesn't hire complete hitters. Still, a few tougher outs have to be in the batting order. Don't they?
It would help if middle-of-the-order hitters such as Carlos Peña and B.J. Upton would chime in. Manager Joe Maddon benched Upton on Wednesday night. There were no protests.
As for Peña, the team keeps waiting for him to break out of his slump. After all, he has had one every year.
In 2007 he was hitting .196 in May, and in 2008 he was hitting .206 after 49 games, and last year he had a 20-game streak where he hit .113 and saw his average fall from .256 to .221.
In those three years, Peña finished with an average of 42 home runs.
By the end of the season, Maddon said, he expected that Peña would end up with similar numbers.
On the other hand, the wait is wearing the Rays out. Not only that, but it's helping to give the Red Sox life.
How do you sum up the last three nights? This comes to mind: Crud.